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The Role of Grief in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  • Category: Literature
  • Subcategory: Plays
  • Topic: Hamlet
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1682
  • Published: 18 March 2021
  • Downloads: 27
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Studying the play Hamlet while giving it a psychoanalytic look we can speculate that there are quite a few different influences for the behavior of each character. With this in mind, we are able to determine the meaning of each word and action of the main character, Hamlet. Beginning with literary critic Arthur Kirsch who wrote a criticism similar to this one in his review Hamlet’s Grief. In this review, the critic finds that the mourning process is a crucial objective when working through grief and that it is, therefore, grief that drives his actions and not insanity.

In Hamlet’s Grief, Kirsch talks about how at the beginning of the play Hamlet is suddenly alone, surrounded by people but feeling very much alone. Hamlet’s surroundings are constantly being bereaved of relationships that bring him any sort of comfort or acceptance. Hamlet has just confronted his dead father’s ghost. We can see that after the loss of his father Hamlet should have been in mourning but the ghost of his father comes to him and essentially demands that Hamlet avenge his death. To anyone living through this, it would just seem obvious that a person would lose all rationality of things and become just that hungry for vengeance. After all, it was his father, the person he most revered and respected.

Not only is Hamlet a tragedy but also a revenge play. However, in both of these genres, the plot is comprised of grief. According to Kirsch, grief is always “what makes up the emotional content of the play.” When Hamlet speaks to his mother about his father’s ghost in Act iii, Scene iv, line 125, he says, “tears perchance for blood,” which is linked to sorrow, vengeance and grief. This also exposes his grief as a byproduct of his sudden meetings with his father’s ghost. Hamlet expresses discontent with the court and all those in his life for not trying to understand his feelings and what he is going through, what with his father’s death.

In Act I scene ii line 68, he speaks of his experience describing his father’s death. Hamlet says, “I have that within which passes show-these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” These lines speak of his failure to fully come to terms with the grief that he is feeling. Hamlet is speaking sincerely of an experience which anyone who has ever lost someone close to them must understand. “He is trying to define what cannot be really described or define”. Therefore if Kirsch’s theory were an exact truth Hamlet could not possibly be a crazy man out to try and quench his thirst for blood in revenging his father’s death, but really just a man who is in shock and clearly hurting. While most people receive sympathy while in mourning that is not something that Hamlet got from anyone he meets; not even his mother offers sympathy. She only fears him and what he might think, I believe, always trying to undermine his beliefs and trying to save face. When Hamlet first speaks to his mother, he tells her,”Seems madam nay it is; I know not seems”. Hamlets soul seemed to speak his grief out of the recognition of his loss and the suffering it has caused him.

Although Hamlet later toyed with the idea of suicide, it is evident that he is not suffering from depression. The stress in Hamlet’s speech is not on himself but mostly about the anger he feels towards his own mother and the other people in his vicinity. Hamlet is simply mourning the death of his father and the loss of his mother, who is apparently a treasonous wife. Hamlet could be free of his father soon after finishing the mourning period, but because his father returns to haunt him and impedes him from forgetting him, he won’t allow Hamlet to mourn his death and then move on with his life, like any normal person would be able to. “Forbids moreover with a lack of sympathy for Hamlet’s grief which is even more pronounced than the queen’s”. Even Hamlet’s dead father shows no sympathy for Hamlet’s pain. His father, the man Hamlet admired and looked up to won’t let him let go so no wonder he feels alone and seems to be depressed. We are not meant to see Hamlet as a diseased character but as a human succumbing to grief. “Hamlet is always aware of the frenzied role he plays and is always clear-headed while with Horatio”. Therefore Hamlet could not possibly be insane. Its there rest of the people that are diseased. When someone is moving through the grieving process they depend upon a little bit of sympathy. And sympathy isn’t something that Hamlet receives from anyone around him; not even his own mother offer sympathy.

There are signs of an Oedipal complex in Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act I Scene II. Also, throughout the play he constantly worries about his mother’s sexual appetite. I think Kirsch tells it exactly right by stating, “There is every reason in reality, for a son to be troubled and decomposed by the appetite of a mother who betrays his father’s memory by her incestuous marriage within a month, to his brother, and murderer, and there is surely more than reason for a son to be obsessed for a time with a father who literally returns from the grave to haunt him”.

Among said people, this environment where no one seems to have any sympathy, Hamlet has Ophelia, the woman he loves. But, because of her own father’s death, Ophelia is feeling the same pain that Hamlet is. Hamlet, however, loses Ophelia first to his own bad behavior and then to her premature death. Due to Hamlets consideration of his mother and her disloyalty to his father, Hamlet’s indignation rolls over onto Ophelia but not without logical cause. Ophelia herself denies the affection she feels towards Hamlet, not only in Hamlet but in herself. “Her rejection of him seems to be a sort of a mirror of his mother’s treason and this denies him the probability of even considering the experience of loving and being loved by a woman”.

It is quite clear at end of the play that Hamlet really did love Ophelia and was extremely hurt by her rejection. As he says in Act V scene I line 262, “I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.” In Ophelia’s character we see true signs of depression, though. Ophelia is so consumed by grief that she becomes insane and then commits suicide. Although Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, aren’t as close to him as his father or even Ophelia where he asserts his anger openly with them. Hamlet first tells, “I will not sort you with the rest of my servants”, which actually concedes that he is quite close to them. Except that these friends of his do not deliver sympathy to grief-stricken Hamlet. When he needs only a friend, they are not truthful with him. Hamlet quickly cuts them out of his life and only one friend is left for guide, Horatio.

In depression, it is our ego that is affected and Hamlet’s ego might have been at an all-time low. Hamlet felt as though he had absolutely no one in the world to turn to for guidance. However, near the end of the play, Hamlet seems to have finally understood his grief and come to terms with it. Hamlet seems to be a completely different man near the end of the play. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet was moaning and complaining about how hurt he was but, toward the end, Hamlet “finds peace and responds in acceptance to whatever situation arises,” Kirsch asserts that “Hamlet becomes all men in his grief… in the image of charity”. Throughout Kirsch’s review, Hamle’ts Grief, he organizes a very convincing argument of what Hamlet’s emotional state really looked like. Kirsch is able to support his analysis through Freud’s essay “Mourning and Melancholia”, and he realizes that Hamlet is actually suffering from several losses and getting no sympathy for any of them. And so, therefore, Kirsch demonstrates that Hamlet must look inside and find his own recognition.

The enigma readers suddenly witness in Hamlet in the tragic resolution where he finally reconciles with his grief and is met with his own annihilation. In the end, through comprehension of the grieving process, Hamlet grows an attitude of empathy and forgiveness. When we take a closer look at Hamlet we can definitely see that Hamlet was not just an insane depressed man but a man with a broken heart grieving and totally alone. Hamlet’s father dies, his mother will not sympathize with him, Ophelia denies him her love and his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are untrustworthy. After being abandoned by all of his loved one’s Hamlet charges through his grief and is triumphant, only then to meet his own death. He does not commit suicide like Ophelia, who yields to her grief, he does not seek revenge like his father wanted and he plans no real attack against his colluding mother. Hamlet clinches onto the mourning process despite the unsympathetic world he is placed in and finds acceptance within himself.

It’s sad to think that all that Hamlet needed was a bit of sympathy, from anyone, and not one person would provide it. Everyone thought he had gone mad, and I think this essay explains well why no one should think that Hamlet was ever a crazy person starved for revenge. Because even if it was true, that any son would want his father avenged, it wasn’t really him. He was never really given the chance to mourn his father correctly, for long enough, and these were the consequences: he died, his mother, the queen died. Hamlet killed, albeit by accident, and then lost what could have been the love of his life, Ophelia. There were so many tragedies (and, yes, this play is definitely a tragedy) and most of those things could have been prevented, if only Hamlet had had an attentive listener.

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The Role Of Grief In Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from
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